LEGO® trains and decorative purpose design : the lettering

Saturday 13 August 2005
by  Didier ENJARY
popularity : 22%

This article is part II of the discussion on LEGO trains decorating techniques [1].


You may need to put some brand or name (short text) on the sides of your rolling stocks, coaches or engines.

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Let’s study some of the various ways to perform such train decoration.

1) Stud-out mosaïc

You can use a ’stud-out’ mosaic technic.

The LEGO® Company proposes a font on the 226 Idea book

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Eric Harshbarger presents a smaller font here based on this technique.

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They are easy to use and all the letters and figures can be represented. But this font is not really small : For instance, Eric’s font is 5 studs high and the the bar of letters are 1 stud wide. As a consequence, this technique has not been used too much in LEGO Trains due to the size incompatibility.

Non-train related examples :

IndyLUG logo JPEG - 15.5 kb

Smart car tower JPEG - 25.3 kb

Milk trailer JPEG - 23.4 kb

Two of these examples show some 4 stud high letters but it’s not possible to build a complete font in this size.

2) Stud-up mosaïc

Stud-up (classical way of stacking plates and bricks) mosaïc letters are smaller. (2 studs tall)

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The structure of this font is identical to Eric Harshbarger stud-out font.

The horizontal bar of the letters are 0.4 stud wide instead of 1. The vertical bar of letters is still 1 stud wide. As a consequence, letters may look wider than tall or bolded but that fits quite well with the long side of some engines and wagons. (if you don’t practice length compressionism)

Both stud-out and stud-up fonts particularly fit well with non-rounded and non-diagonal letters such : E,F,H,I,L and T but also with figures and rounded letters which can be squared (A,C,G,J,O,P,S,U).

Some good looking results can be achieved with diagonal letters such N and X.

Stud-up letters are smaller, but it’s not a great advantage because they are shortened only in one direction : that does not allow in practice a better (smoother) dithering. However, this is sufficient to apply into LEGO train MOCs.

Walt May’s CN, CSX and GT letterings. JPEG - 28 kb JPEG - 26 kb JPEG - 18.7 kb

James Mathis’ SBB pattern and CFF pattern on Swiss Re44 engine. GIF - 39.1 kb GIF - 70.7 kb

Patrick Rumpel ICE speed train

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A lot of Town and Space examples by Masahiro Yanagi JPEG - 35.4 kb

3) Railton’s SNOTized letters.

Jason Railton has written two fundamentals articles [2] [3] on this kind of lettering and uses at least in three creation.

He has defined a font which consists of 90° rotated stud-up mosaïc letters.

Due to the rotation, the horizontal bar of the letters are then 1 stud wide and the vertical ones 0.4 studs wide. The font, which is complete, is 4-studs tall.

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Jason Railton’s creations :

- Bolsover
- Saxa
- Oxo

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Curiously [4], Jason Railton letters are 4-studs high. It makes representation of letters such E or B difficult (letters with mid-level horizontal lines).

A 5-stud high version of Railton’s letters using stud-out Harshbarger’s letters structure would be better.

But as the Railton’s letters vertical bar is thin, some good rendering for B and S can be achieved (see Bolsover examples)

James Mathis’ TGV logo uses a kind of Railton’s lettering which can lead to an incomplete 2.8 stud tall font :

The Italic TGV by James Mathis is a tour de force.

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You will find building instruction for his TGV lettering in the ILTCO library article "SNOT Train".

Mathis’ improvement on Railton’s letters consist of creating up and down 0.4 stud high lines without adding SNOT difficulties.

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4) SNOTized fonts

SNOT techniques [5] allows us to create finer letters so we may duplicate letters with more accuracy.

a) Harshbargers’ SNOTized letters

- Harshbarger

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is complete and quite small (3.2 studs) but also quite complicated SNOT mounted. I’ve not been able to find LEGO train examples.

b) Bellis’ SNOTized letters

- Jensen/Bellis/Crawford (JBC) is a very small font (2-studs tall) but not complete (B for instance can’t be modeled). The lower case letters model are worth a look.

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These letters present both vertical and horizontal 0.4 studs wide lines but are harder to build. SNOT skills are required. The great advantage with SNOT building is that mid-level lines can be easily represented contrary to Mathis improved Railton’s lettering.

A con to JBC lettering is that the letters are, at least, 2-studs deep. This may prevent you from using such a technique in 6-wide train applications or internal detailed models. At least this technique is well appreciated by builders like Mark Bellis :

Mark Bellis’ 66001 EWS and Glorious Class 50 Hoover 50033

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Mark Bellis Railtrack JPEG - 19.2 kb

Mark Bellis Maersk container JPEG - 37.4 kb

5) Font size overview

Lettering typeSizeVertical bar sizeHorizontal bar sizeFont
Stud out - TLC 7 1 1 C [6]
Stud out - Harshbarger 5 1 1 C
Stud up - May 2.8 1 0.4 C
Stud up - Mathis 2 1 0.4 C
Railton’s - Railton 4 0.4 1 C
Railton’s - Mathis 2.8 0.4 0.4 U [7]
SNOT - Harshbarger 3.2 0.4 0.4 C
SNOT - JBC 2 0.4 0.4 U [8]

6) Other builders

KCS and SantaFeby Walt May. Mixed use of stud-up and SNOT technique. JPEG - 17 kb

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My point of view is train related. Of course, these techniques can be and are applied to other themes such as town (trucks, buildings, etc..) :

In’n’Out Burger sign at the Fullerton Railroad Days by SCLTC

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The famous Schleim truck (truck by James Mathis, lettering by Holger Matthes) JPEG - 19.7 kb

(twice the size of JBC letterings)

Chips trailer (undetermined author) JPEG - 32.2 kb

7) Other letters

- Mosaïc letters

El caracho Coca-cola wagon JPEG - 36.2 kb

- Stud-Up Slope Brick Letters

Steve’s Home Depot

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- Slope Brick Striping Letters

VIA engine by Mike Kollross JPEG - 24 kb

- Round bricks letters

Casper Van Nimvegen ESSO sign Letters

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8) Other Non-letter train decorative mosaïcs

off-topic but cool train decorative mosaÏcs

Banana JPEG - 12.1 kb

CP rail JPEG - 29.2 kb

Mark Bellis’ British rail logo

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9) Miniland / LEGOland examples

"CLOTHES" (stud-out) and "SAMSING" (JBC lettering) examples JPEG - 12 kb

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"DAYTONA" (Italicised Railton’s lettering like)

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"SPACE SHOP" (Stud-up slope brick letters] JPEG - 15.6 kb


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and a lot of great and high resolution examples at LEGO-DESIGNER Miniland shots Brickshelf Gallery.


SNOT Lettering is a typical AFOL technique [9], but it’s not a technique that needs rare parts. Small plates, bricks and tiles [10], Technic 1x1 brick, half pin or 1x1 brick with studs on the sides are all the pieces you need. All of them are available in a wide variety of color.

In reference to Larry who wrote about SNOT [11], lettering ought to be a technique in one’s design arsenal that is used to realise a shape desired.

This study does not tell you which lettering technique is the best.

Some fonts are incomplete but that can’t be an issue which prevents you from using it because you probably won’t need all the alphabet to decorate your train.

Some fonts are smaller or bigger, thinner or wider. On one hand, I like JBC’s letters because they are really thin; on the other hand, stud-up letters, due to their simplicity, should be highlighted. Among all these lettering types, you have to choose the one that best fits your MOC.

Patterned bricks, tiles, and stickers are others answers to the lettering problem but are maybe less creative and less LEGO-pure (home-made stickers). I’ll be happy to read a paper on this subject if you think I am wrong :-).


Thanks to :

- Erik "Brickerik" Amzallag for sharing his knowledge on building techniques,
- Rob "Brickmodder" Hendrix for his kind help in translation,

and special thanks to people quoted in this article.

[1] Didier Enjary, LEGO trains : Decorative color schemes, slope brick striping, ILTCO

[2] Jason Railton,Advanced SNOT, The Brick Issue #4, Christmas 2003

[3] Jason Railton,LEGO SNOT, The Brick Issue #3,Summer 2003

[4] Certainly due to the need of having smaller letters

[5] More information on SNOT building here : James Mathis, SNOT Train, ILTCO Gallery

[6] Complete

[7] Uncomplete

[8] Uncomplete. For instance, upper case B and D are not modelled

[9] not seen on any official set

[10] 1x1 parts can be usefully replaced by 1xn parts

[11] Larry Pieniazek, quote from a LUGNET post, October 2004

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